Food Freedom Friday Edition 148 - Digestive Distress - The Body & The Mind
You’ve been struggling with some discomfort in your belly and perhaps have tried a few common interventions. Elimination protocols are great at removing gut irritants and often will leave one feeling better with some, or sometimes all, of the distress being relieved.
It can, however, be challenging to reconcile the fact that while you feel better eliminating things like gluten or alcohol from your diet, you miss them like crazy.
I understand this. I would love to eat pizza and cheesecake, but I pay for it with gut pain and distention, skin breakouts, water retention, a nasty headache and feeling as though I have been hit by a truck. And my symptoms are minor!!
Many people experience far worse with sensitivities. They can be debilitating and isolating.
Chronic digestive distress brings with it a whole set of considerations. Not only are you dealing with the physical pan, discomfort, despair, embarrassment & so forth, you must also face the emotional consequences your symptoms can create.
It takes grit and strength to deal with physical pain every day. It takes enormous emotional & mental resources to find and eliminate food sensitivities, and deal with the feeling of missing out on some of your favorite foods. Or to explain to friends that you can't come out. It's easy to indulge in the "why me" and "it's not fair" traps.
Your body and mind are both your opponents here. We will dive a little deeper into dealing with each one.
The physical discomfort of digestive distress...
Gluten and Dairy
The most common sensitivities I come across are to gluten and cow dairy. Gluten is found in wheat, barley & rye. Cow dairy contains lactose, a sugar many adults cannot break down, and the proteins casein & whey, which can also be tricky for some. If you are wondering where to start looking for sensitivities, start here. If you struggle with any form of digestive distress, chances are you will feel significantly better without one or both of these.
The trouble is within their breakdown. Casein and gluten are difficult for your enzymes to break apart. Foods that are not adequately broken down are more fermentable to the microbiome - creating gas, bloating, spasm and pain. They are also more provocative to the immune system - creating inflammation, water retention and racing heart. And this is only a few of the nuisances these molecules can create.
Reducing fermentable carbohydrates can help quickly relieve symptoms. You probably are well aware of which foods these are beans, onions, garlic, cabbage, broccoli & their relatives, apples, melon. These foods that are high in FODMAPs (fermentable carbohydrates) should be minimized to help break the cycle of discomfort.
Even though these foods are considered healthy, their fibers and sugars create more gas and bloating via the microbiome. This in turn creates spasm, pain and can speed up digestion, resulting in diarrhea. The effect is worsened when the microbiome is imbalanced, and this is common in many (most!) forms of chronic digestive distress.
Your Intestinal Lining
The lining of your intestine is the avenue through which you absorb your nutrition. It is the interface between your food and the immune system. It houses the vast majority of your immune system. It has enormous surface area, and because it acts like a smart filter, allowing some stuff in and excluding other stuff, it is extremely thin, sensitive and prone to injury. Injury in turn compromises absorption (which over the long term will compromise digestion) and triggers the immune system.
The lining of your gut needs to be supported in any chronic digestive problem. Whether irritation, infection, autoimmunity, exposure or other cause, the lining of the small intestine should be supported with nutrients that helps it to maintain good integrity (not be leaky), and promote healing of leakiness. Fasting has been shown to increase intestinal regeneration. Bone broth, gelatin, slippery foods, glutamine, MSM, zinc, marshmallow, slippery elm and the like are examples of lining-building supplies
More often than not, healing the gut is a multi-faceted process. You will likely be required to become your own personal detective as you sort through food sensitivities and adapt your lifestyle. This, of course, can take a huge psychological toll, especially if you discover that your body feels physically better when you eliminate one (or more) of your favorite foods.
Enzymes help physically break up proteins, fats and carbohydrates so they can be absorbed through the small intestinal wall. Their breakdown creates LESS fermentation and LESS immune response. Enzymes are especially indicated in motility problems (constipation or diarrhea), with undigested food or mucous in the stool as well as with foul gas or stool. Carminatives help to support the digestive process & relieve symptoms.
Utilize enzymes & carminative herbs to increase digestive ability and decrease gas and bloating. This, in turn, will reduce pain and immune provocation. Mint, caraway, fennel, chamomile, cumin, ginger are carminative herbs that help relieve gas, reduce bloating and promote digestive ease.
The psychological discomfort of digestive distress and/or giving up foods..
Connect with your purpose. Ultimately, you want to feel good and live your life being engaged and present. Food elimination or lifestyle adjustments are a means to that end. I definitely do understand how even reading that could make you roll your eyes. I mean, come on. You want pizza. Understanding and being connected to your end goal will help support you through those tougher ‘why me??’ periods.
Occasionally a reminder or a kick-in-the-pants is necessary. You, might be well aware that you have gluten sensitivity, but keep on eating gluten – until you end up paying a high enough physical price. Sometimes it is worth re-connecting with a consequence if you are really struggling psychologically. Have the pizza, experience how it makes you feel.
Change your language. What is the fastest way to put yourself back in your power, resulting in you feeling less bad about the accommodations and flexibility you may give yourself?? Own your choices and their ramifications. Feel the difference when using these words: instead of saying, "I can't eat that", try "I don't eat that". Truth is, you can eat whatever you want, but you choose not to!
Match your satisfaction, meet your food desires. Can you create comfort, satisfaction and enjoyment from options that avoid sensitivities? Try, and cultivate opportunities to do so. There are SO many blogs, cookbooks and resources out there that help you create absolutely delicious alternatives to absolutely every type of pleasure or comfort food that avoid any and all potential allergens. This is one time that I whole heartedly encourage you to use Google.
Each one of you has your own unique challenges to face. In our modern society, it is the norm rather than the exception. The majority of the time you do not actually choose what our challenges are. What you do get to pick and choose is how you show up in the world with your attitude and in the effort you put into the things that make yours life, and the life of others, better.